Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

Summary: Working with international company workforces I'm often struck by the sheer diversity of individuals across cultures, age groups and skill sets who are confident in their ability to communicate and collaborate well. There seems to be a personality type that has a huge appetite for learning and using ever more frequent waves of new technology developments that is independent of any particular demographic, and who are eager to participate in group activities online or off.

TOPICS: Networking

Working with international company workforces I'm often struck by the sheer diversity of individuals across cultures, age groups and skill sets who are confident in their ability to communicate and collaborate well. There seems to be a personality type that has a huge appetite for learning and using ever more frequent waves of new technology developments that is independent of any particular demographic, and who are eager to participate in group activities online or off.

These folks are often called 'early adopters' and 'techies' in companies and are leveraged in pilot try outs of new technologies.Their opposite I call the Taciturns (habitually reserved and uncommunicative) who have limited interest (or competence and confidence) in collaborating, preferring instead to work solo and communicate on their own terms, and the clash of these two groups has been the demise of many otherwise well equipped online collaboration environments inside companies.

People who are talented communicators have significant advantages in life but also run the risk of not being taken seriously if they don't demonstrate depth of knowledge and a productive work ethic to their colleagues - agile but superficial skaters tend to eventually be shunned by their peers, particularly if they are appropriating and articulating other people's deeper work and ideas.

There's an unfortunate perception sometimes associated with 2.0 technologies that the newest generations of technology are the exclusive provenance of the youngest members of the work force, who will shortly inherit the world and are therefore to be looked up to with their innovative new ways of working.

Some fresh out of school employees have been startled to find that they are looked up to by the people they expected to be learning from in their new job. The surprise is finding themselves perceived by some - and distrusted by others - as being magically endowed with some technological elixir that makes them multitasking information sponges who will have downloaded all the knowledge in the company into their brains in their first week on the job.

This is often unfortunate, particularly for those individuals who had been used up until now to boundaries in life from their educators and family, and who now find themselves being congratulated for the ADD behavior they had been trying to grow out of. I'm exaggerating of course, but I know of at least one instance where this has happened.

The concept of apprenticeships, journeymen and other historical trade rights of passage are currently unfashionable - and virtually unknown - in some circles, with the idea that new employees hitting the ground running in their new jobs, with a flurry of digital engagement, learning and interaction being deemed a desirable trait the old can inherit from the young.

Obviously some of the people who have created the workflows and body of knowledge inside a company through years of service resent the trivialization of their old fashioned ways of working, and some have been led to believe that they need to buck up their ideas and get with it on Twitter, micro/macro blogging, Facebook-in-the-enterprise and other forms of social engagement with their cohorts.

The Taciturns of all ages generally speaking are laughing inwardly at all the teenage leadership stuff they hear being bandied about, and have often already decided they won't be participating in any of that.

Voluble posturing and speculation about millennials, Generation Y, their geo location and socially loosely networked connections, 'the future of work is Facebook' and so on by those trying to decode their cultural petri dish perceptions and futurist crystal ball gazing are in some cases doing a great disservice to many of those entering the workforce.

Most people, even in these economically challenged times, are looking for work where they learn skills and knowledge from their peers, which will make them more valuable as their career progresses regardless of age. People are looking to learn disciplines and ways of working that will get them recognition, kudos and make them more money, while employers are looking for staff who are going to make a meaningful contribution and be competent in the role they were hired into. This isn't rocket science, just common sense.

A huge challenge for modern companies is maintaining organizational cohesion and continuity - and staff loyalty, focus and retention is a large part of that. Loosely coupled networks of individuals can be a powerful corrosive influence outside corporate organizations, whether socializing outside work by disgruntled employees, or the far more sinister realities of fighting amorphous enemies on a military level.

Ex US General Stanley McChrystal's new piece in Foreign Policy magazine ' It Takes a Network - The new frontline of modern warfare' discusses the realities of fighting against a shape shifting, networked enemy whose decentralized choreography is very hard to read

....Decisions were not centralized, but were made quickly and communicated laterally across the organization. Zarqawi's fighters were adapted to the areas they haunted, like Fallujah and Qaim in Iraq's western Anbar province, and yet through modern technology were closely linked to the rest of the province and country. Money, propaganda, and information flowed at alarming rates, allowing for powerful, nimble coordination. We would watch their tactics change (from rocket attacks to suicide bombings, for example) nearly simultaneously in disparate cities. It was a deadly choreography achieved with a constantly changing, often unrecognizable structure. Over time, it became increasingly clear -- often from intercepted communications or the accounts of insurgents we had captured -- that our enemy was a constellation of fighters organized not by rank but on the basis of relationships and acquaintances, reputation and fame. Who became radicalized in the prisons of Egypt? Who trained together in the pre-9/11 camps in Afghanistan? Who is married to whose sister? Who is making a name for himself, and in doing so burnishing the al Qaeda brand?

All this allowed for flexibility and an impressive ability to grow and to sustain losses. The enemy does not convene promotion boards; the network is self-forming. We would watch a young Iraqi set up in a neighborhood and rise swiftly in importance: After achieving some tactical success, he would market himself, make connections, gain followers, and suddenly a new node of the network would be created and absorbed. The network's energy grew.

Corporations are fighting similar commercial battles against disruptive networks of individuals looking for ways to disintermediate and pick off opportunities from successful business entities. With the world's working population aging rapidly, the challenges of transforming large, rigid organizational cultures into more agile and aware networks has never been greater.

The momentum modern technologies enable is taken advantage of relatively easily by distributed smaller networks, as evidenced by the huge Dark Internet, often for short term political or criminal gains detrimental to greater society.


Our first attempt at a network was to physically create one. We convinced the agencies partnered with the JSOTF (joint special operations task force) to join us in a big tent at one of our bases so that we could share and process the intelligence in one location. Operators and analysts from multiple units and agencies sat side by side as we sought to fuse our intelligence and operations efforts -- and our cultures -- into a unified effort. This may seem obvious, but at the time it wasn't. Too often, intelligence would travel up the chain in organizational silos -- and return too slowly for those in the fight to take critical action.

While many companies with global aspirations have the IT infrastructure and capabilities to 'meet in a big tent to share and process intelligence' some are still chasing red herrings around generation gaps and attempting to hang planning off limited life social marketing ideas, failing to see the greater strategic and tactical values and perils in attempts at deploying modern social software...

Topic: Networking


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • insightful post Oliver

    Robert Lavigne
  • Somebody has to understand how computers work.

    Unfortunately, it isn't the Generation Y people. They know how to use some applications, often very quickly, and as you have touched on, in a superficial way.
    But they don't know what's going on beneath the surface. They just interact with the gui, and that's the sum total of their worth.
    Now consider that manufacturing equipment is all driven by computers. So is accountancy, and the personnel functions, also the legal and operational functions of all companies - they all depend on computers. Therefore, the operating systems that we choose, and the staff who maintain those computers REALLY MATTER. Superficial knowledge can't cut it.
    There is a fine balance (or a dangerous knife edge) between fresh blood coming into a company, and taking on a load of disruptive new staff who don't know much, and understand even less. Really small companies aren't susceptible to this kind of disruption - they remain in control. But larger organisations really could be messed up by Generation Y. You cannot yet run industrial processes off an ipad.
    • Throw in a sub-standard education, ...

      an "it's all about the vibe" understanding of technical detail, social network style inane chatter and the attention span of a toddler. I don't find myself threatened by Gen Y at all. I do worry about my retirement:-(
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

        @Richard Flude
        I totally agree with you.
        Ram U
    • RE: Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

      @peter_erskine@... <br>I somewhat agree that the newer generation (software developers) are more reliant on GUIs and abstractions, than what's going on underneath. <br><br>However, I don't think this is avoidable. In my opinion (of the software industry), software are getting more complex. Attempting to understand everything, from algorithms to system architecture designs to security to large-scale deployments, is extremely hard. Throw in the myriad of platform choices and ever-growing technologies (programming languages, libraries, etc), and it's easy to see why it is almost impossible for a software developer to "know everything beneath the surface".<br><br>I've seen 2 different methods of teachings at universities: The first method covers a very wide-yet-shallow number of topics, and leave it to the students to further deepen their skills when they graduate (usually software engineering courses). The second method focus on a very narrow-yet-deep selection of topics, and hope that when the students graduate, the things they learned would still be in demand (usually computer science courses).<br><br>For a software engineer, he can't be expected to understand how everything ticks. His responsibility is to assemble complex systems out of working cogs and parts. <br><br>For a computer scientist or technology specialist, he can't be expected to be an expert in every other fields or technologies. His responsibility is to remain up-to-date within the field he specializes in.<br><br>Finally, the collaboration of software engineers and computer scientists and technology specialists is what makes complex software possible today. The preconception that a "good" software developer needs to know "everything" is outdated and misguided. <br><br>Here's my analogy of a working software team (or any company organizations for that matter): The human body is like a software team. The brain may orchestrate everything and keep the body ticking, but it does not need to know how every organ works (swap in an artificial heart, and you'll still live). On the other hand, every organ is just as significant, regardless of how limited or minuscule their roles may seem. If your anal sphincter stopped working, it doesn't matter how smart your brain is, you still die [insert orifice joke here].

      [Edit: I had a point to make when I started writing this. But I lost it]
  • RE: Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

    It would be foolhardy in general to just assume that any new hire, Gen Y or otherwise, knows the relevant IT technology. Where I think the value of this Gen Y immersion in Web 2.0 social media etc. lies for the organization is in seeing alternative ways of doing things -- which when partnered with an understanding of what the business is about, can lead to useful innovation. I for one do not really appreciate the value of a product like Facebook, but that doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't.
  • your model is bogus

    There are times when you need to play with bouncing ideas back and forth, and times when you need to hide in the cave to pound rocks together and get work done. There are taciturn people who are early adopters (or would be if they had the cash). Sometimes, pounding those rocks is a means to boot-strap to the point you can afford or build better tools. Other times, you get stuck in that cave pounding rocks with no signs of day-light (i.e. no signs of a chance of improvement in the situation).

    The "social networkers" are clueless lusers, who don't know or want to know what they're doing, what's happening to their personal private info, or how any of it works. They're just fad surfers.

    The concept of apprenticeships, journeymen and other historical trade rites of passage are still with us, though in much more subtle forms, because few STEM workers would deign to comply with a hierarchical kind of associational structure. There have always been naive people who came up with great ideas, and old pros (gurus, godlings, superstars) who are respected by the newbies because they know of great work they've done and are doing.

    I think the shallow vs. deep thing is more the computer engineering and computer science students on one side, and the IMS/MIS B-school students and "information science" students on the other side. The B-school and IS people go broad and extremely shallow, skimming along the interface between users and actual software developers; the engineers and scientists anchor in the minutiae of the hardware and build up abstractions from there. Users are unpredictable; they skim where they wish and dig deep at unexpected points along the way, not really understanding how things work under the hood but only how to get done what they wish.

    I get a mixed read on those B-school students. A few do dig a little deeper, while others just don't want to learn more. Some will merrily swap hardware components and engage in early adoption without really knowing what's going on.

    But I did notice a certain entrepreneurial streak in the kind of ditsy, socializing set going back a couple decades. They're quick to enthusiastically say, Let's all get together and do this!, without really knowing what it will require. But sometimes, their family resources and enthusiasm support them as they throw together something that's just enough there for others of their mind to start purchasing from them. And then they learn -- sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; from their floating abstractions they work their way down to the substance of what makes it work, and thus figure out how to make it better. Some of the earliest e-commerce people started this way.

    [Ed. MAN! this composing window is tiny! Only 4 narrow lines! So small, the scroll bar is useless. Stretch it out a bit, FCOL. Maybe 15-30 lines and enough width for a dozen more characters. Please!]
  • RE: Generation 'Y do I have to do it like that?'

    Yes, it is unfortunate to assume that young people 'get it' just because they are on Facebook all day, but there is one aspect that I think you did make not clarify; at least as it pertains to business. The insurgents in Iraq were successful, because of how they behave, not because of the tools they use. Those are just enablers. In the business context, younger people are collaborative in nature. They usually look for more support on ideas than their elders. This is a behavioral difference. For this group, Facebook and Twitter are enablers. These tools provide a mechanism for getting input and feedback. There is nothing inherent in the tools themselves that helps the business work better. Until folks adopt the business behaviors that these tools enable, no amount of social networking strategy is going to help business. The bottom line is that ?technology is easy, changing behavior is hard.? So, my recommendation is to find ways to encourage people to use collaboration tools, while changing their daily workflows as little as possible. One way to do this is to co-opt existing tools and extending them to provide social capabilities, rather than trying to get them to use new tools. Basex Research provides one such example at: